HARRISBURG -- Legislative Democrats claim that an impact fee imposed on natural gas pumped from Marcellus Shale regions doesn't produce enough revenue, but one Republican lawmaker says it's paying off nicely for counties and towns in his area.
State Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, said that Westmoreland County will receive almost $1.58 million from the gas impact fee this year, while seven towns in the county will split an additional $152,000.
The other county in his district, Armstrong, will get $591,000, with four towns in that county splitting an additional $41,000.
"Counties and municipalities statewide are beginning to reap the financial benefits that were promised under Act 13 of 2012," which created the natural gas impact fee, he said last week.
"Our local governments have the ability to use these funds for projects directly impacted by natural gas drilling and associated development, such as road repairs, infrastructure improvements and emergency training and response."
But Democratic legislators counter that towns and counties, as well as state government, should be getting even more revenue from the underground gas, which they say has been a bonanza for private drilling companies, most of them from out of state.
In the two years the impact fee law has been in effect, Mr. Evankovich said, almost $407 million has been collected from drilling companies.
But Democrats, such as Rep. Joe Markosek, D-Monroeville, said that if a severance tax on natural gas had been enacted -- as they unsuccessfully fought for -- an additional $548 million would have been generated. Democrats favored a plan to impose a tax of several cents for every 1,000 cubic feet of gas drawn from the shale.
"We're the only state in the country that imposes a fee instead of a tax, and the rate is so embarrassingly low that it ranks among the lowest of any natural gas-producing state," Mr. Markosek said. He said it's time for out-of-state drillers "to pay their fair share."
Another Democrat, Rep. Steve McCarter of suburban Philadelphia, said a severance tax "is not even part of the discussion" because Republicans, control the Legislature. He said the lost $548 million could have gone "to properly fund public education and health and human services, as well as provide local property tax relief."
Last year, Democrats lost a battle with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and his legislative allies over how best to derive revenue from the Marcellus Shale gas, which is pumped from deep underground shale located in three-fourths of Pennsylvania, mostly the western and northern parts.
Mr. Corbett ran for governor in 2010 on a platform of "no new taxes," so the "impact fee" system was worked out to give the host towns some revenue from the underground gas to help pay for repairing road and bridge damage caused by the heavy gas trucks. Funding also goes to preserve water supplies, repair water and sewer systems, and to help fund drug and alcohol treatment programs and affordable housing.
The impact fees are paid to the host towns by the private drilling companies that pump out the natural gas, which is used to heat buildings in the U.S. and abroad. The fees go up or down, depending on the price of natural gas and inflation.
The state Public Utility Commission collects the revenue and then remits it, some to state government, some to the county where drilling is going on and some to the host municipality. The state funding is used to enforce clean air and water laws, to developer first-responder programs for emergencies and to help companies transition their gasoline-powered vehicles to natural gas power.
These are the seven Westmoreland County towns in Mr. Evankovich's district and the amount they received:
• Allegheny Township, $22,514
• Arnold, $11,537
• Export, $1,138
• Lower Burrell, $27,005
• Murrysville, $53,133
• New Kensington, $28,054
• Upper Burrell, $8,389 In Armstrong County:
• Bethel, $7,368
• Cadogan, $1,395
• Gilpin, $19,785
• Parks, $12,524
The checks will start being distributed tomorrow. "I am pleased the state can help local governments meet the demands that have arisen as a result of the Marcellus Shale industry and ensure the industry is well-regulated," Mr. Evankovich said.